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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Wednesday June 12th 2024

Open Letter to Walz and Ellison: The Takeover of McKeever Case is Just Plain Wrong


Reprinted with permission.

Dear Governor Walz and Attorney General Ellison:
Our organization protests, in the strongest possible terms, the Attorney General’s takeover of the prosecution of the McKeever case. This case involves the manipulation of two teens, ages 15 and 17, by an adult into committing a heinous crime. According to media accounts, the reason given for this takeover was that the decision to offer the teens plea deals for their testimony against the adult, was “so far outside the normal course for the prosecution of such a heinous crime, and so far outside of community expectations.”
It is routine for prosecutors to offer plea agreements to defendants who are deemed less culpable by age, mental capacity or role in the crime in exchange for their testimony. These kinds of plea deals are not “far outside the normal course for the prosecution” but are standard practice for prosecutors.
The decision to offer plea arrangements to the two teens is also not “outside of community expectations.” Hennepin County residents elected Ms. Moriarty by an overwhelming margin specifically because she would correct the harms of the past under Mike Freeman and Amy Klobuchar. During their tenures, the numbers of Black men and boys placed in the prison system from Hennepin County increased by 300%. Further, incarcerations of Black people from Hennepin County for non-violent drug offenses increased from 9% to 23%. As AG Ellison has acknowledged through the creation of the Conviction Review Unit, a number of Black youth who are likely innocent remain in prison due to the practices of those two county prosecutors. Their practices have caused great harm to the community—harm the voters of Hennepin County chose to end through electing Mary Moriarty.
Study after study has demonstrated that critical thinking skills and impulse control are not fully developed in teens. Thus, the two youths truly are less culpable in this appalling crime. Further, no benefit is gained through subjecting these youth to adult prison sentences. Such sentences presume that these youth cannot be rehabilitated and are beyond redemption. They also expose youth to punishment that will leave them less functional, less educated, and more anti-social once they complete their sentences and return to society. We recognize that the nature of this tragic crime has deeply harmed Ms. McKeever’s family and the community and that punishment is necessary but, given their ages, juvenile detention followed by an extended parole is a much more appropriate way for these youth to serve their sentences for their role in this crime. This is the offer proposed by Ms. Moriarty.
We find it telling that you are intervening in this case when you have so often failed to intervene in cases involving police and other system players who have killed or harmed members of the community. Del Shea Perry, mother of Hardel Sherrell, has asked you for five years to take over the prosecution of the jailers and medical personnel who killed her son from the prosecutor who has refused to take action against them, and you have failed to do so. The community has also called on you to take over the prosecution of the killers of Jamar Clark, Cordale Handy, Isak Aden, Dolal Idd, Anthony Legato and many others and you have shown no interest in those cases in which prosecutors have failed to prosecute fully culpable individuals who killed members of our community.
Finally, as you undoubtedly know, prosecutors enjoy near-total immunity for their decisions. The goal of this immunity is to shield prosecutors from the political pressures inherent in their position. By interceding in this case, you have undermined this principle based on your perception of what certain political forces desire rather than any proper legal basis for doing so. In other words, you are politicizing prosecutorial discretion for your own purposes.
We demand that you step away from this prosecution and issue an apology to Ms. Moriarty and to the voters of Hennepin County for your actions.

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